Like other industries, the art world should come under the scrutiny of fair and equitable business practices. With so much privatization in the gallery and museum world, it's as good a time as any for consumers of culture to question where funds come from—and where profits are going. We've been seeking out the best not-for-profit and community conscious art spaces in the most commercial cities on the global art circuit. As part of our mission to give art a social slant, the fifth stop in our series exploring these venues is London. Check out our non-profit guides to spaces in Berlin, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco too.
In the London art world, Frieze is a bit like Christmas. As soon as the summer starts to fade it rears its head: the phrase "Frieze week," like "Christmas time," becomes a synonym for heady consumerism, specially commissioned exhibitions, and drunken parties. This is probably the best time, therefore, to shed light on another part of the art world: the influential and varied not-for-profit spaces in London—especially those with socially engaged practices.
It’s hard to make a concise list of London organizations that has room for all the diversity out there, but the ones on this list are included here because they engage with their local communities and serve an educational function, as well as not being commercially driven. All of them, big and small, maintain what feels like the core of what we mean when we say phrases like "socially-engaged" or "not-for-profit"—they all have an ethical sense of interacting with a specific community in a free, genuine, human, art-centred way. They are mentioned for their variety as much as similarity, and they're spread across London—North, South, East, and West.
South London Gallery, via Wiki image
The South London Gallery is the oldest gallery on this list, founded in 1891 with a mission to “bring art to the people of South London.” Like any longstanding institution, its remit has grown over the years, and on top of its five free exhibitions a year and extensive series of talks and events, it has an outstanding participation programme.
SLG Local is one part of its outreach, itself a multifaceted project that aims to bring a diverse range of artwork from public and private collections into a wide range of social settings in the local area. One such currently exhibited project is Heather and Ivan Morrison’s 2013-2015 work Shadow Curriculum with Highshore, a mixed needs special secondary school in the area. The artists explore moments of change, both personal and communal, and the school’s move to a new premises offered an opportunity to investigate these changes with the children. Proposing a new permanent work in the new premises made from a Douglas Fir, the artists explored with the children what happens to a tree after it is felled, using it as a tool to shape the curriculum and learning experience. The documentary exploring the work is on view in the upstairs galleries till November 29, along with some of the work made by the children.
South London Gallery has also recently been gifted the Peckham Road Fire Station across the street. This five-storey space will likely open to the pubic in 2018—vastly expanding space for exhibitions, participation and education.
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery, via Wiki image
The Serpentine Gallery was opened by the Arts Council in 1970, with an original mission to show the work of emerging artists. It has expanded hugely since then, and changed a lot. The 2013 addition of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery means there are two free exhibitions on concurrently and the experimental summer pavilion draws large architectural and design crowds. However, these are only part of what the Serpentine has to offer. Its education projects are some of the most well thought through and interesting of all of London’s larger not-for-profit spaces.
Skills Exchange, for example, is an expansive project that places artists in residence in communities at points of change. The project creates a dynamic social exchange between the often elderly members of communities in care homes such as Camden Homes for Older People and Age Concern and the rest of the wider local community, suggesting that the isolation of the elderly is detrimental for all social groups and aims to overcome this divide by finding ways to share skills and knowledge. The Edgware Road Project is an ongoing series of events and performances based out of the Centre for Possible Studies. Recently a performance of Monica Ross’ original piece Anniversary, a collective, multilingual recitation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, took place on Alia Farid’s transformable public space and stage, A Stage for any Revolution, situated on Edgware Road.
Beyond the Interface opening at Furtherfield. Image courtesy Furtherfield
Furtherfield was developed in 1997 by the artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett with a broad community in mind: one connected by the new possibilities that the internet offered artists in the late 1990s, a space between people, freed from the constraints of commercial gallery activity. In 2006 they coined the term DIWO—doing it with others—as a way to reimagine the DIY ethos of net art as collaborative and communal.
Furtherfield is still, at its core, a network of artists, but their collective activities have expanded. In 2012 Furtherfield Gallery found its current home in Finsbury Park, hosting five exhibitions per year. Last year they also created Furtherfield Commons on the site as a lab space for people to learn about and therefore demystify digital tools. Working with local organizations such as Codasign and Fossbox. Furtherfield can offer accessible workshops for young people who might not otherwise get access to hands-on experience working with technology.
The exhibition The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies opens on October 16 and looks at how we might reimagine an economy in the age of blockchain, as part of Furtherfield’s Art Data Money series. In the exhibition the work The Museum of Contemprary Commodities by Paula Crutchlow and Ian Cook, for example, has been developed with local groups in Finsbury Park, and looks at the values in peoples lives and their relationship to the commodities in the local area. A workshop will take place on Saturday, October 17.
The Interface of BookBlast, image courtesy Banner Repeater
Banner Repeater is an artist-led project space and artists’ book archive on Platform 1 of Hackney Downs railway station, founded in 2009 by Ami Clarke. Its unusual location on a railway platform, coupled with their generous opening hours, free wifi and open door policy, mean that the space acts as an introduction to contemporary artists’ publishing for the many people who use Hackney Downs station but might not otherwise know much about artists’ books or contemporary arts projects.
Banner Repeater’s project space often presents works that explore the blurred lines between online and offline, hosting critical discussions that feel integral to the work. On show in the project space until the 31 October is The Liquid Archive, a project exploring the impact of digital photography on the exhibition space.
As well as being a valuable physical project space and for reading and researching artists’ publications, Banner Repeater has been involved in a long-running process of digitization, creating an online database and resource of artists’ publishing but without the usual archive gatekeepers. BookBlast allows users to exchange research and knowledge about artists’ publishing past and reworks the traditional organisation of an archive with a wiki style approach. Users will be able to create their own metadata, cross-references and edits, making the database a contributive learning experience with wide international access.
Image Courtesy Turf Projects
Turf is a non-profit artist-run project in Croydon. The gallery provides workspace, education and employment opportunities for artists. Unusually for a gallery space, and as part of their education output, Turf run free lunchtime crits for artists, usually involving the exhibiting artists and anyone who wishes to take part.
The exhibitions are varied. The recent Art in Restaurants is on the Same Level as Food in Museums, curated by Lauren Godfrey, presented works by emerging and established artists exploring the positioning of food and art within each other’s spaces. Currently Turf is also working with Fungus Press to produce a series of posters and billboards in Croydon’s parks and community spaces, creating concrete poems that create moments of pause in public spaces. Since 2014 Turf have also been working with Club Soda, a group of artists with learning difficulties and mental health issues on exhibitions and events.
Image: Ben Quinton
This space isn’t for showing art but for making it. Developed in 2014 by the architecture and design project Assemble, who have recently been nominated for the Turner prize, Blackhorse Workshop provides both workshop space and use of tools for makers of all levels and types, and also provides classes and training in multiple materials, from basic skills up to specialist techniques.
With studio rents on the increase, and artists and makers being squeezed out of London, Blackhorse Workshop is a valuable resource to know about. Their membership scheme means you can rent space for a morning to fix something broken or on a much longer basis, for developing projects, getting a designer/maker business started or making sculptural work that requires machine tools.
Isik knutsdotter of Fourthland 'Everything happens on the street', collecting the tales of Hoxton, PEER Gallery. Objects made along the way to gather stories. Processes will lead into a street scene event on the 19th Sep with new tales and lost sounds.
PEER has been an artist run not-for-profit space in Shoreditch since the late '90s. Central to its founding mission was the imperative to “offer creative opportunities and experiences to local people of all ages and from a range of economic, social and cultural backgrounds through their participation programme.” Over the years it has worked with local schools, theatre companies and The Sharp End, a resource centre for older people living in Hackney.
Over the summer a new development scheme was implemented, improving the visibility of the space from the street and creating a mini park space, reducing littering and opening up the space to passersby. During the work, Fourthlands, (artists Louise Sayarer and Eva Vikstrom) created a series of works and performances in the space in front of the gallery. Currently in the gallery until 21 November is an exhibition of Joy Gerrard’s monochromatic drawings depicting crowds and communities en masse.
Anti-University project, in collaboration with Hackney Museum. OSE Associate Shiri Shalmy led on this project. Images courtesy Open School East.
Open School East is based in a former library and community centre in Dalston. It is a reimagined art school model, bringing together artists who receive free further artistic training and who, as part of their education, create free events for the local community in a kind of artistic, community-based labour exchange. Founded in 2013 in response to rises in university tuition fees, its move away from a traditional model does more than offer an alternative. It repositions an art education, and in turn art’s function, within a community: art in this model is communal, collaborative, and of benefit to the social fabric of the communities it is situated in.
Interestingly, the move towards practitioners whose work lends itself to social engagement has meant that the school’s students, known as associates, are more experienced in their fields than MFA students might be. The education here is not so much formal as a deepening of already established artistic practice and a platform for work that isn’t commercially driven.
Image: Peckham Platform, 2014
Peckham Platform is a relative newbie on this list. It became independent from University of the Arts London in 2013 and received Arts Council national portfolio funding shortly after, as well as charitable status. Its social engagement is central to its founding mission. So far it has lived up to expectation, creating artworks in the local Peckham community and working with artists who make socially engaged work central to their practice. Michael McMillan’s current exhibition Doing Nothing is Not an Option, until 22 November, is a reflection on the work and activities of the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Layering the present over the past, his multifaceted installation puts Saro-Wiwa’s powerful last speech ‘I accuse’ into the mouths of local passersby and uses Sokari Douglas-Camp’s living memorial to Saro-Wiwa, The Battle Bus, as a site for a performance work with Peckham Theatre while also rooting these in the local community’s day to day experiences of Peckham Nigerian culture.
The Some[w]Here Workshops, (c) the drawing shed
the drawing shed was started in 2009 by the artists Sally Labern and Bobby Lloyd. Their activities are multiple, but all can be categorized as participatory, inclusive and collaborative, working within and with communities often marginalized. They are perhaps best known for their mobile sheds, the drawing shed, ClayOven and PrintBike, which can brought to specific places within communities to produce projects, taking spaces for making into communities and thereby reimagining what and where an artist-led ‘space’ could be.
In 2014 they began a new project in Wandsworth called Some[w]Here Research, which worked with residents of local estates to activate the outdoor spaces, working with kids to explore soap box and go-kart culture, and bringing artists and local kids together to build things and be outdoors. Currently, at Bury Transport Museum in Greater Manchester, they are exhibiting part of their series Black Light—Critical Shelter. As 2015 is UNESCO’s International Year of Light the work both uses and inverts the metaphors of light—as knowledge, clarity and illumination—to reveal and explore information that is hidden from public view. Using a black light, the public becomes the artwork, holding and viewing texts only visible under the light.
(Image at the top: Art in Restaurants, Courtesy Turf Projects)